Women’s softball to battle No. 2 Florida

When the Illinois women’s softball team played in Florida two weekends ago, the result left a bad taste in their mouths as they dropped three of their five games. But with an undefeated weekend behind them, the Orange and Blue travel to the Cox Communications Invitational in Gainseville, Fla., determined to prove 5-0 is more their style.

“(We’re) looking for another 5-0 (weekend),” senior catcher Lana Armstrong said. “That’s the goal every weekend. We’re definitely capable of it.”

The reigning Big Ten Player of the Week, Armstrong has been a big part of the Illini offense, hitting .333 on the season with 15 RBIs, but she isn’t alone.

Second baseman Danielle Zymkowitz has hit safely in all 14 games this season, good for the second-longest streak in program history. The sophomore is hitting .468 on the season, second in the conference.

But the Illinois (10-4) offense will face a difficult task Saturday and Sunday against the pitching of No. 2 Florida. Sophomore Stephanie Brombacher is 7-0 on the season with a 0.00 ERA. Senior Stacey Nelson isn’t far behind at 6-2 with a 0.52 ERA.

The Gators are coming off a weekend in which they beat three ranked opponents and most recently blanked No. 6 Michigan on Wednesday, but the Fighting Illini feel they are up to the challenge.

“I’m excited to play them more than anything because I feel like we owe them. We played a really close game with them the last time we faced them, and it would be nice to come out with a win this time,” Armstrong said.

“I feel like we’re definitely capable of doing that this year. We’ve got the pitching to hold them to a minimum and the offense to really get ahead of them.”

After beating a pair of ranked opponents on the same weekend for the first time in program history, the Illini are more motivated than ever.

“If anything, you can really, really work on fine tuning things. We did some things well, but we still need to continue to get better,” head coach Terri Sullivan said. “We took some good steps towards improving.

“(I’m) most excited that our team is really understanding that their pride is on the line every time they take the field, and we’re playing a lot of schools that have tremendous pride, but we have to have more.”

The weekend will end with a pair of games against the Gators, but it begins with less intimidating opponents. Illinois will face South Florida (10-5) for the second time this season, after defeating the Bulls 6-4 on Feb. 14. Hitting .448, junior catcher Cat Olnick leads the way for USF, which is coming off a 4-1 weekend.

Also facing the Fighting Illini will be Texas Tech (3-10) and Pacific (5-4).

Despite the stark contrast between No. 2 Florida and the rest of their weekend opponents, the Illini are confident they can maintain their intensity.

“It is exciting to play ranked teams, but we like to say that numbers don’t mean much,” sophomore left fielder Hollie Pinchback said. “It is exciting to play a ranked team, but it’s just as exciting to play any other team and put up a win.”